Adam Moody’s review published on Letterboxd:
Relentless and absolutely unforgettable, powered by searing raw power and pessimistic intelligence. Mike Leigh literally scrounges the sewers in a bleak exploration of lost souls desperately seeking and ultimately failing to find something in their futile existences. I disagreed with many of the borderline nihilistic ideas floating throughout this uncompromising experience, but never did I want to stop listening. Leigh's simplistic direction acts as a vehicle for existential examinations and deft character studies. His distinctive improvisational style is at full effect here -with Andrew Dickson's evocative score ever-present - the entire film runs like each event and character is unraveling and crumbling right before our eyes.
This is one of the first films that has actually inspired me to get hold of a copy of its script and analyze it. There is so much substance present that I want to understand, but it would take many viewings to do so. Leigh layers his dialogue with so many references to literature, philosophy, and even existential musings that had my mind spinning trying to keep up. It seemed as if every conversation held something of unexplained importance just waiting to be uncovered. Also, the bleak and haunting visual style holds various symbolic experimentations. One of the best being the scene where Johnny and the security guard are in a room, in the pitch dark, like two divine beings, debating over the meaning of existence - powered by Johnny's incredible monologue.
David Thewlis plays Johnny who, after a sexual encounter turns to rape, flees to London to stay with a former girlfriend (Lesley Sharp). What results is him aimlessly wandering the streets of London where he meets a diverse supply of confused, despairing, and utterly self-destructive individuals. There is a interesting plot line involving their sadistic landlord - played with chilling conviction by Greg Cuttwell. Thewlis' performance is indeed something to spill your tea over. He captures the heart and presence of a completely unpredictable and endlessly fascinating character. Johnny is intellectually gifted, challenging the morals and ideals of everyone he crosses paths with while simultaneously corrupting himself with his psychotic, probably mentally disturbed personality. He is the unreliable, fatalistic narrator of a doomed Odyssey.
It is no secret that I tend to favor darker, more unsettling films. There is just something endlessly fascinating about the gloomy depths of life and its more tortured inhabitants. Mike Leigh doesn't explain his intentions, forcing viewers to view his work in their own personal way. I have immense admiration for directors with the audacity to do that. Leigh accomplishes just that and more with rebellious craft and effective provocation.